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October 22, 2023 3 Minutes

Geography and terroirs of Rioja

The Rioja Qualified Designation of Origin corresponds to a wine-growing region that extends along the upper part of the Ebro Valley, on both sides of the river, and covers three autonomous communities: La Rioja, the Basque Country and Navarra.

QDO Rioja is synonymous with quality and authenticity and has specific characteristics that make it a very special region:

  • The Rioja region is surrounded by mountain ranges to the north and south and is crossed by the Ebro River, one of the most important rivers in Spain. These characteristics make Rioja the ideal place to produce high quality wines, thanks to the grapes grown, which have great potential in terms of intensity, acidity and tannins.
  • The natural area that makes up the Denomination is protected to the north by the Sierra de Cantabria, which blocks the cold and humid winds from the Atlantic, and to the south by the Demanda and Cameros mountain ranges. The Ebro River crosses the region from west to east, close to the northern border, forming a narrow strip of rugged terrain, while the southern area is wider and is crossed by seven tributaries that form secondary valleys.
  • The hundred kilometres between Haro (westernmost town) and Alfaro (easternmost town) present a variety of altitudes, with terraced vineyards reaching a maximum altitude of around 900 metres, giving the wines their particular characteristics.
  • Despite its small area in relation to its rugged geography, Rioja has a diversity of soils and microclimates that give rise to unique wines. This makes it possible to produce a wide range of wines with a distinct but recognisable identity within a common cohesion.
Soils in Rioja 

Rioja has a wide variety of landscapes, including mountains, terraces and valleys, which contribute to soil diversity.  When assessing the capacity of soils to produce exceptional wines, it is essential to consider a number of different factors such as altitude, slope, orientation, structure, organic matter, pH, among others. In addition to these factors, it is also crucial to take into account the particular microclimate of the area, as well as the agricultural practices applied in vine cultivation.

In addition to the factors described above, the most important soil types in Rioja from a viticultural point of view, are the following

  • Calcareous clayey soils, characterised by their yellow-ochre colour, are poor in organic matter but rich in calcium. Due to the irregular topography of the area, they are difficult to drain and their cultivation is complicated. The roots of the vines penetrate the soil to a depth of about one metre, where they encounter a fragmented rocky subsoil.
  • Ferrous clay soils predominate in the middle hills and in the higher areas separating the alluvial terraces of Rioja Alta and Rioja Oriental. These reddish-brown soils are usually deep and very compact due to their high clay content.

Alluvial soils are mainly located on the banks of the river Ebro and in the valleys formed by its tributaries, forming flat terraces.  These sandy and stony soils allow deep roots to penetrate. Their characteristics favour good drainage, while at the same time they accumulate heat and reflect sunlight, creating a favourable environment for the grapes to ripen.

Climate in the Rioja region

The climate of the QDO Rioja is defined as temperate, the result of the interaction between the Atlantic and Mediterranean climates, with an average annual temperature of 12-14 degrees Celsius and warm summers, contrasting with cool winters. Rainfall is evenly distributed throughout the year, with wet winters and springs and dry summers and autumns. The region enjoys around 2,000 hours of sunshine per year, benefiting the growth of the vines.

The diversity of microclimates is due to the fact that the region stretches about 100 km from north-west to south-east. The eastern areas are more influenced by the Mediterranean climate, while the western areas are more influenced by the Atlantic. With an altitude of between 300 and 900 metres, the vineyards experience a wide range of temperatures, while the proximity of the Ebro River and its tributaries, together with the winds from the valley, cool the area. The warm, dry months of September and October provide optimal conditions for harvesting and ripening.

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